Quintessential classic rock albums

I was killing time the other day in a coffee-purveying establishment that was playing a classic rock channel on the in-store radio, and “Maggie May” came on. “What a great album,” thought I of Every Picture Tells a Story, “not a bad song on it.”

That got me thinking about whether it should be considered one of the quintessential albums of classic rock or not. Which means, of course, that we need to compile the list of the top ten quintessential albums of classic rock.

Note that these may or may not be your favorite albums, or may or may not even be by your favorite artists – but they’re the albums that you can’t understand the music of the late '60s and early '70s without.

My list so far:

  1. Sticky Fingers
  2. Abbey Road
  3. Who’s Next
  4. Dark Side of the Moon
  5. Layla

Those five are absolutely on the list. The next three I think belong on the list, but I’d be willing to discuss the possibility that something else should be subsituted in for one of them. If you want to add another album, you need to specify which of these should come off the list.

  1. Every Picture Tells a Story
  2. Crosby Stills and Nash
  3. American Beauty/Workingman’s Dead (All these years later, I still don’t understand why these were released separately – they function perfectly as a double album and I am happy to pretend that they actually were.)

I’m really undecided about the last two, but the following candidates have occurred to me:

Blonde on Blonde
Hotel California
The Doors
Disraeli Gears
Blind Faith
Music from Big Pink

And one final note: I consider The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen both damn close to perfect albums, and I can still listen to both of them repeatedly with enormous delight (which is very far from the case with most of these – I’m emphatically not an oldies listener in general), but I’m not sure if either of them belongs on the list.

So – whaddya think?

(Note: If you need to specify an artist, it probably doesn’t belong on the list. :stuck_out_tongue: )

I’ve always preferred ‘Wish You Were Here’ to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.

Songs from Sun Street - The Saw Doctors.

Dare - Human League

Blowin your mind - Van Morrison

Silk Degrees - Boz Scaggs

Pet Sounds - no need to name the artist

Revolver - Beatles

Park Life - Blur

Ziggy Stardust

Goodbye Yellow Brick road

Paralell Lines - no need to name the artist

Blue - should be no need to name the artist, but for the musicly uneducated, it was Joni Mitchell


Appetite for destruction - you should know this.

Songs in the key of life - another you shold know

Innervisions - you should know this one too.

Sexual healing

untitled. but usually known as their fourth work IV - you should know this.

AJA - another you should know

Harvest - I’m giving up on clues now.

Brothers in arms

Hunky Dory

Toys in the attic

Talking book


Band on the run

American Pie

Piano Man

Tea for the tillerman


Tubular bells

Bat out of Hell

Bridge over troubled water



Purple Rain

The Bends

Music for the Jilted Generation

My 10, which includes a lot of the same artists, but with mostly different albums. Also, I tried not to duplicate artists or it’s be easy to fill slots 1-7 with Beatles albums:

  1. Sgt. Pepper
  2. Tommy
  3. Highway 61 Revisited
  4. Let It Bleed
  5. Born to Run
  6. Dark Side of the Moon
  7. IV or ZoSo or whatever you want to call it
  8. American Beauty
  9. Tres Hombres
  10. Raw Power

I don’t even like some of those albums, but I think many of them were genre-defining shifts within the broader category of classic rock, while others simply have incredible staying power.

Other albums I considered, in addition to the ones listed in the OP, were Pet Sounds, Anarchy in the UK, and Radio City.

Interesting list, Casdave, but can you get it down to ten?

  1. Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-erd
  2. Led Zeppelin IV
  3. The Doors
  4. Are you Experienced?
    • Pearl*
  5. The Wall
  6. Who’s Next
  7. Tattoo You
  8. The White Album
  9. Bayou Country–may be a little obscure, but I love me some CCR.

In no particular order:
Abbey Road
Back in Black
Dark Side of the Moon
Are You Experienced?
Led Zeppelin 1
Not Fragile
What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been
Morrison Hotel

I like this list a lot. I’d take out Tres Hombres and MAYBE Born to Run, and add White Light / White Heat by Velvet Underground, and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. I’m finding it hard to keep it to 10.

ETA : Shit, no Hendrix? Screw it, it’s impossible. Make it top 15, at least…


Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East
Abbey Road
Let it Bleed
Are You Experienced?
The Band
Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround
John Barleycorn Must Die
Blonde on Blonde
Procol Harum (first album)
Led Zeppelin IV
A Night at the Opera
Disraeli Gears
Ladies of the Canyon
We’re Only In It for the Money
The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Workingman’s Dead

AC/DC - Back in Black
Aerosmith - Rocks
Beatles - Abbey Road
Cream - Disraeli Gears
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River **
Deep Purple - Machine Head
Doors - L.A. Woman
Jim Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
Jethro Tull -
Led Zeppelin IV (“Zoso”)
Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed **
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

The Cars? The Cars Complete Greatest Hits?

My top ten, in no particular order;

War Pigs - Black Sabbath
Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin
Who’s Next - The Who
Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf
The Doors - The Doors
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Derek and the Dominos
Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
The Ramones - The Ramones
Moving Pictures - Rush
Eliminator - ZZ Top

Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
The Stranger - Billy Joel

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
London Calling by the Clash
My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello
St. Louis to Liverpool by Chuck Berry
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

Abraxsas should be in there somewhere.

Okay, now cut it down to 10. That’s what makes it challenging.

There should be a Steppenwolf album in my top ten, probably Live. Maybe Monster

OK, I’ll give it a shot.

Beatles - Revolver
The Who - Who’s Next
Springsteen - Born To Run
Jethro Tull - Aqualung
Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Cream - Disraeli Gears
Boston - Boston
Traffic - Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II
Supertramp - Crime of the Century

I find it hard to believe that only one person has listed Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Practically the whole album was released as singles!

Another album that I have a soft spot for is Never Mind the Bullocks: It’s the Sex Pistols but no one has mentioned it (and with a release in 1977, I would think that it’s outside of the “early 70s” requirement.

What do you mean exactly by the “late 60s and early '70s”? Judging from some of the responses, the two extremes seem to be 1967 (Cream’s Disraeli Gears) to 1981 in the UK or 1982 in the US (Human League’s Dare).

I am going to take the term as meaning 1967 through 1974 and suggest the following within these dates:

  1. SPLHCB - Beatles
  2. Exile on Main Street - Rolling Stones
  3. Moondance - Van Morrison
  4. Disraeli Gears - Cream
  5. The Doors - The Doors
  6. Machine Head - Deep Purple
  7. The Eagles - The Eagles
  8. IV/Zoso - Led Zeppelin
  9. Who’s Next - The Who
  10. Autobahn - Kraftwerk

By no means a “Top Ten” - I could easily make it a top 20! The whole “singer/songwriter” phase of popular music really put a dent into the idea of “rock” in the early '70s, too…

As the OP – I had in mind, say, '65-'75, so would definitely exclude the Human League – and also, reluctantly, Elvis Costello.

I’d also knock out Joni Mitchell as not “rock.”

I’m thinking of turning this into a poll, using as entries any album mentioned by somone who make a good-faith effort to keep their lists to 10 or 12.


What do you mean by quintessential? If you’re saying that they needn’t be albums that you necessarily like, how do you judge them? By how much they influenced others? By how much they represented the times? By their cultural significance? Should they be defining examples of particular cultural movements, such as psychedelia, heavy metal, and folk? By how many other people you think like them? The best album by the best artists? Are you looking at the albums as representing the artist’s best achievement, or as a summation of what they achieved? If the latter, a ‘best of’ would probably be ideal.

The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are examples of artists who are probably thought to have defined that period, but isolating the album that is the most significant might be difficult. We’ve already had Revolver, Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road from the Beatles.

White Light/White Heat is an interesting example because it didn’t sell much at the time, but eventually has come to be seen as very influential on future musicians, whereas Sgt Pepper was influential at the time, but not so much now. Which qualifies?

So many questions, so few answers.

PS Although I too love ‘Every Picture’, is Rod Stewart a defining 60s/70s cultural figure? I don’t think he really qualifies.